Ulster talks adjourned until after election take a

The Northern Ireland peace process yesterday experienced a bang and a whimper - the quiet adjournment of political talks, together with the realisation that loyalists had tried to blow up a southern Irish town.

That the talks have been in session since June without reaching consideration of substantive political issues has meant their public credibility has ebbed. With the general election and council elections due, adjournment was seen as inevitable. Their resumption is expected after the polls.

In the meantime, the dangers of a political vacuum were emphasised when it emerged that a bomb left at a Sinn Fein office in the border town of Monaghan had not been a hoax, as first reported.

The bomb, planted on Sunday, contained 26lb of commercial explosives, which could have brought down one or more buildings. In the event only the detonator exploded, causing no significant damage.

It is believed to be the work of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Its significance is that it was the first bombing attack by the group since it declared a ceasefire in October 1994 and throws doubt on the continuing commitment of the loyalist paramilitary groups to political rather than violent activity.

The loyalists had previously feared such acts would lead to expulsion of their political spokesmen from the talks. But with the talks in abeyance this constraint may be lifted.

The immediate view in security circles was that the attackwas probably intended as retaliation for the recent IRA killing of a soldier in south Armagh. As such, sources say, they believe it was a "one-off" rather than the beginning of a concerted campaign.

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